LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey conceded the largest county prosecutorial agency in the nation to reform challenger George Gascón, a result spurred by years of organizing by Black Lives Matter that sent shockwaves across the movement for police accountability.
Standing in the Hall of Justice and flanked by her staff, Lacey told reporters the nationwide uprising against police violence — reignited this summer by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — focused her reelection effort around the issue of criminal legal reform.
“These incidents were painful and exposed an issue that has existed in this country for years: racism,” Lacey said of recent fatal police shootings of Black people. “Our nation is going through a reckoning, and what happened in my election may one day be listed as a consequence of that. It may be said that the result of this election is the result of our season of discontent and a demand to see a tsunami of change.”
Lacey — the first woman and first black person to serve as LA County DA — has defended the prosecutorial work of her office, the largest in the nation, and described herself as a champion for victims of violence.
She repeated those accolades Friday, thanking her staff for supporting crime victims and working to halt sex trafficking in the country.
In election debates, Lacey acknowledged the need to eradicate racism in the criminal legal system while touting her efforts to divert people with mental illness from jail. And though her office has prosecuted at least one LAPD officer for a fatal shooting, critics have said her recent actions — such as her move to expunge marijuana-related convictions — have come too late.
For days after Tuesday’s election, Gascón, the former San Francisco DA, appeared poised to unseat Lacey with wave after wave of counted ballots widening his lead over the incumbent prosecutor, who sought a third term in office.
Gascón had 53.7% of the vote to Lacey’s 46.2%, according to county election data Friday, and was leading by 229,022 votes.
County election officials said Thursday an additional 719,000 ballots, including 693,000 vote-by-mail ballots, have yet to be counted and that more mail-in ballots will be processed as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3.
Gascón spoke to reporters Friday after his acceptance speech, saying he will immediately stop his agency from seeking the death penalty, cease prosecuting children as adults and reopen investigations into police misconduct and fatal police shootings.
In prepared remarks, Gascón acknowledged Lacey for “the barriers she has breached” and said he welcomes collaboration from people and organizations who hold varying opinions of his vision for reforming the agency.
“I want those that supported my opponent to know that I will work incredibly hard to earn your trust and respect,” Gascón said. “Having voices at the table that disagree challenges me to be better, and it is critical to my ability to do this work in the most effective manner possible.”
Gascón said the election results show people are unhappy with the status quo, including how fatal police shootings are reviewed by the agency he will take over on Dec. 7.
“We have to move away from police departments investigating themselves,” Gascón said, adding that he will explore creating an independent bureau within the DA’s office to review police misconduct cases.
Law enforcement unions across California poured more than $3.5 million into Lacey’s campaign, but support from Democratic leaders faded as the winds of change swept through the election.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters switched their endorsements to Gascón, who is also supported by California Governor Gavin Newsom and Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.
The nationwide movement for police accountability has only increased attention to Lacey’s record in office, with both county residents and elected officials increasing their demands for law enforcement reforms.
Years of organizing by Black Lives Matter LA fomented a countywide reckoning over police violence against Black people and over Lacey’s repeated refusals to prosecute who fatally shoot people.
Activists held weekly protests outside Lacey’s office for three years, creating a space for families of people killed by police to mourn and organize to build momentum behind their demands for accountability.
Gascón — a former LA Police Department assistant chief — campaigned on a promise to usher in reforms and has followed that with a commitment to reopen at least four criminal investigations of fatal police shootings that Lacey previously reviewed and declined to prosecute.
The Cuba-born candidate also backs a proposed California bill that would require district attorneys to recuse themselves from prosecuting excessive force and fatal shootings by police when they’ve accepted campaign donations from the officer’s labor union or association.
At the weekly protest outside Lacey’s office in LA on Wednesday night, activists marked three years since their journey began to replace Lacey, and they celebrated the early election results as a victory.
On the stage in front of the Hall of Justice, Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM-LA, told the crowd that replacing the DA is only one element of a larger “vision” to free communities from systematic racism.
“Getting her out is an objective,” Abdullah said. “We are going to transform and completely reimagine the system of public safety.”
Rahje Branch, member of BLM-LA, told reporters Friday the organization stands ready to hold Gascón accountable to his campaign promises and will meet with him Monday.
Branch called Lacey’s defeat a victory for people who’ve demanded police accountability.
“This is a victory for families of those who have been murdered by police,” Branch said. “We know that Black political power is transformative and it has made a statement that is powerful.”